Durham Prison has been named as one of the worst jails in the country for overcrowding.
Figure released by the Howard League for Penal Reform claim the jail is in the top ten of prisons where inmates have to share cells designed for fewer offenders.
Durham is placed ninth in the list with the top slot going to Wandsworth Prison in London.
The charity say 559 prisoners at the Category B jail are forced to live in cramped cells compared with 835 at Wandsworth.
By contrast there was no overcrowding at the nearby Category A Frankland Prison for some of the country’s worst offenders.
The figures were released by the Ministry of Justice after a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Howard League for Penal Reform.
Nationally there are almost 20,000 prisoners sharing a cell meant for one while a further 777 were made to sleep three in a cell where it had been designed for two.
Frances Cook, chief executive, said the figures were worse than expected.
She said: “At last, we have the picture of the real state of overcrowding in our prisons. It’s far worse than anyone imagined: one in four people behind bars are packed like sardines into cramped cells.
“It should come as little surprise that such crowded conditions leave staff hugely overstretched, especially as more are being laid off. This means there are little to no opportunities for prisoners to work, learn or take courses to turn them away from crime.
“Staff cuts and overcrowding mean that grown men spend all weekend and up to 22 hours a day during the week cooped up like battery chickens – no wonder violence and self-injury is rife.”
She called for the government to reduce overcrowding by more community-based punishments.
“If the Ministry of Justice is serious about reducing reoffending it must tackle overcrowding now. Successive governments have peddled the lie that you can build your way out of a prison’s overcrowding problem,” she said.
“While public services are being cut, ministers should look at more effective and affordable solutions. They need to address the fact the prison population has doubled in just 20 years and move people on to community sentences.”
But Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said prison was not meant to be a comfortable experience for prisoners.
He said: “Let’s be clear what overcrowding in prison actually means – typically it means having to share a cell rather than have one to yourself.
“Prisoners are treated humanely but prison is not somewhere that anyone should be comfortable about going back to.
“All prisons have safe population levels and have capacity to take those sent there by the courts.
“We are replacing older prisons with newer accommodation that is cheaper to run. I will continue to look for ways to make the prison system more efficient and to tackle our stubbornly high reoffending rates.”